Power revealed

Preached on: Sunday 25th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there are no Powerpoint slides accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Speak o Lord, indeed, to us that the earth may be filled with Your glory.
Your glory was seen in this first miracle that we look at today performed at a wedding in Cana and many miracles thereafter have taken place not just through the pages of scripture but in life in many different ways as we come to this world today continue to work in our lives and show anew the things that we might do. In Your name we ask these things. Amen.

In the second chapter of John’s gospel, we have the account of the very first miracle of our Lord. The scene has now shifted from Judea where John the Baptist has been baptizing in the Jordan and they’re now 70 miles north the area of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples have walked all that way. The occasion was a wedding, an eastern wedding.

Eastern weddings were very different from western affairs. In western weddings the bride is the prominent figure when she enters clad in all her glory the whole congregation stand and the organ thunders and whatever it is. Every eye is focused on her, but in eastern weddings it’s the groom that is prominent, he is the featured one. The bride merely shows up for the wedding. I’m sure we wouldn’t like that here but not only is this groom the featured person but he also pays for the whole affair. So, some of those weddings and those times would go on for two or three days, some as long as a week, and both sides of the family would join together for a big celebration. This is the kind of wedding that John is talking about here this morning. Very sadly, unfortunately not the kind of weddings that people have had to have during this these times of lockdown and pandemic. It was a big affair and Mary figures rather prominently at this wedding too.

She’s there at the wedding and Jesus turns up as we’re told with five disciples. Now, whether they hadn’t sent back their reply or hadn’t saved the date they weren’t expected. He had just called these disciples to Himself and they had walked for two days from Judea. No-one had time to send word that they were additional members in Jesus party but as is ordinarily true in these rural settings people do not make a great deal of fuss about things, they’re always there to add a little more water in the soup and take care of the unexpected guests that show up. So, the disciples come with Jesus unexpected and that maybe explains why the wine run out. Not that I’m saying the disciples drunk at all but there were extra people there for two or three days and that called on a great deal of wine at these celebrations so Mary seizes the occasion to say very significantly to Jesus these words “They have no wine.”

She doesn’t ask Him to do anything about it, she merely states the fact “They have no wine.” Some of the commentators suggest that what she meant was that it was a gentle hint that maybe they had turned up unexpected and had caused the situation, they had put a strain on the hospitality of their host and maybe they should have left before it fully run out, but another says that Mary did not expect any miracle because Jesus, up to that point, hadn’t done any. But the account makes rather clear that Mary did expect Jesus to help. She came to Him with the problem and she expected Him to do something about it. Personally, I believe she did expect Him to do something startling and supernatural. We have to understand Mary had expectations that had been greatly awakened. Undoubtedly she had been told about the accounts of what had happened in Judea how he had been baptized by John the Baptist and how indeed the heavens opened, the dove lighted on Jesus head and the voice cried out “This is my beloved son“ and she too remembered the promises of the would-be Messiah when she carried Him in her womb. Undoubtedly, she expected Him to act along with all the other Jews of that day. She doubtless expected Him, as the Messiah, to claim the throne of David, to somehow drive out the Romans and fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament, but now that Jesus has taken the initiative, He’s called some disciples, she had a sort of right to expect more to happen, and the fact that Jesus clearly understood her came back in His response and He says “Woman, what has that to do with me?”

It’s not a rude or disrespectful answer to his mother, although it may sound like it. If a young man today called his mother ‘woman’ he probably would have got a clip around the ear, but here Jesus was using a very common title of respect in the same way on the cross he addressed Mary as “Woman, behold your son.”

When he says what was it to do with Him, He’s just more or less saying ‘I don’t
Understand? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to happen? What do you want in the plan, mother?’, and often that’s the questions we ask in our lives ‘What are, what is part of God’s plan? We look for the miracles and they don’t often happen but sometimes they do and Mary already had in her mind that something was going to happen because at the end of speaking with Jesus these few words she turns to the servants as we hear and says “Do whatever he tells you to do”.

Notice the simplicity of her words, how easily, how quietly and with dignity it was done and then Jesus takes over from there, not in any flashy way, but just simply says “Fill the jars with water” and, of course, they fill these great big stone jars up with water to the brim with gallons and gallons of water and then he tells them to “Draw out some, take it to the steward of the feast.” There was no prayer, there was no words of command, there was no hysterical shouting or bleating or laying on the hands, nothing at all, He didn’t even touch the water, He didn’t even taste it afterwards Himself to see what has happened, He simply says “take it to the steward” the master of ceremonies or whatever you want to call them, and quite simply the water became wine.

This happened within the limits of a natural process. It’s very important to see this. Milk didn’t become the wine, the water didn’t become milk, he didn’t change it into something like Irn Bru brew or whatever, what happened was something that also happens in nature, water is being changed into wine in every vineyard in France, Spain, Portugal and further afield, it’s part of the long process of growth, gathering, and crushing, and it involves the activity of men and women and the process of fermentation, it’s a natural process and this was the characteristic of these miracles of Jesus, they were a very natural process.

There’s a very helpful book by C S Lewis called Miracles where he pointed out that every miracle Jesus did is simply a kind of short circuiting of natural processes, doing instantly something which, in general, would take a longer period of time. Lewis says in the book each miracle writes for us, in small letters, something that God has already written or will write, and letters almost too large to be noticed across the whole canvas of nature. This is what Jesus is doing, He’s overleaping the elements of time, growth, gathering, crushing, fermenting and he takes the water right to wine without a word or a gesture. He demonstrates His marvelous ability to master the processes of nature.

Some claim that Jesus didn’t change water into real wine that all he did was change it into very good grape juice. I consider that claim that they make ridiculous, probably hardly worthy of an answer. They don’t serve grape juice at Jewish weddings. They never have and they probably never will. In fact, in other places in the New Testament where we have warnings against the overuse of wine, we have a clear indication that the wine of that day was indeed intoxicating, people had to watch it then, just as they must watch today. Wine was a commonplace drink, one that believers partook off along with everyone else in the culture and climate. Our Lord certainly did change that water into real, true, genuine wine. Actually, the very force of this miracle depended upon the fact that it was good wine and this was confirmed to the amazement of the steward of the feast when he drank the wine. Can you just picture them taking the cup and sipping it, swirling it around, perhaps smelling it, and drinking it again, and then realizing what a wonderful blend or brand of wine it was, in fact, such a good wine that had come from these jars that had been filled with water.

The account that we read this morning even hints at the bewilderment of the very bridegroom, we’re not told that the what the bridegroom said but he evidently didn’t say anything he must have been quite, I suppose, bewildered by everything. He just keeps his mouth shut and he takes the credit for the whole incident and for his guests realizing that they had kept and served the best wine last which was not the common practice at these things.

“This is the first of His signs that Jesus did in Cana and Galilee! it says in John 2:11 and it manifested His glory and the disciples believed in Him.

Three factors call for our attention in that particular verse because John says that the miracle was a ‘sign’. It was an acted parable and signs are not merely miracles they’re miracles that have a meaning, they’re intended to convey truth that would not otherwise have been known, that’s what signs are for, to tell us something that we wouldn’t otherwise know, that’s what John means when he says that this miracle was a sign and what it pictured on that day was the normal outcome of the combination of human and divine activity. Men can fill water jars, only God can change water into wine. Men can do the ordinary, the common place, the normal activity, but God touches it and brings it to life and gives it its flavor, and what’s the meaning of this sign that day, it’s an indication of what the ministry of Jesus was going to be like, Whenever He touched a human life, not only during His lifetime on earth, but well beyond that, and that’s how it affects us today as well. Bring God into our situations, into all the humdrum calling places, activities, and we’re touched with a new power, become different, more fragrant, more flavourable, more enjoyable and delightful, and the joy and the gladness of our heart when He comes into our lives, and that was the meaning of the sign that day where God indeed manifested Himself to humankind and showing this first miracle, and, according to John, that the second thing was that indeed it did show God’s glory. Already in chapter one John has told us that the glory of Jesus is His great grace and truth, and that He’s full of that grace and truth, and here in this event this morning we see both of these together.

His grace is manifested in the fact that He brought with Him five, with Himself six, unexpected guests to the wedding. They had no gifts to bring, so He seizes on the fact of the six stone water jars and He has them filled to the brim and He changes them and thereby He gives the most generous gift anybody would give at a wedding. He gives that newly married couple a gift of the best wine in the whole countryside. One jar for each of those unexpected guests. What a gracious truth comes from our Lord’s grace as He gives and gifts to each one of us and with it comes the truth and the glory of Jesus in His fullness, in that event there, was manifested truth about Himself that He indeed was the Lord of all nature.

A I pointed out earlier, He was carrying out a natural process but in a very short period of time.

We can open up the fairy tale books. We find ourselves in a world of miracles so diverse that they can hardly be classified – beasts that turn into men; men into beasts or trees; trees that talk; ships that do things; magic rings that change; all these things in the land of fairytales, but the fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles and storytellers lies in the fact that they show invasion of a further power, the great power of God. He brings the light into the world through His son Jesus Christ and He’s proclaimed the King of kings and His majesty is there for all to see and it was starting to become evident as these miracles were carried out.

He worked with things in nature changed them quickly, and people talk about nature. I read a little explanation in our gardening magazine that someone has said nature is the glove on the hand of God and we see the glove at work and we think it’s marvelous and it spoke about many of the ladies gardening and wearing their gloves wearing their garden gloves to dig up the earth, to pull the weeds, to sow the seeds and the plants.

Wouldn’t you think it’s strange if someone came along past your garden seeing all the fine work you had done and marvel that your gloves could do such a thing.

It’s the hand inside the glove that does the work to show the glory of the garden and it’s God indeed in Christ that shows the work that glorifies Him in life.

We see everything in the natural world, we see the cycles of snow and rain, we see the stars in the heaven, the sun, the moon.

Who did it? It wasn’t the glove behind all these things, and the power of nature was God Himself.

The third thing that John brings out and concluding this passage he says “His disciples believed in him” they believed that here was God’s man, they had started following Him, He was ruling over all the works of God’s hand, He was put in dominion and authority and given power over all the earth and here He had power over nature, a limitless power, and that was the sign in this very first miracle when the disciples saw the water changed into wine they believed more deeply in Him than they ever had before, they saw that here was one who could handle life, here is one who could take a commonplace thing, nothing out of the ordinary, simple water, and make it wine, make a source of joy, glory and warmth, and He still comes yet, but not to change water into wine, but to change us. The hand is there upon us, and in us, and through us, and the power of His spirit, and He can bring out in us more flavor and fragrance and strength and beauty than can ever be brought out in whatever bottle wine. He will do this with each of us if we ask Him if we follow Him, and if we believe Him.

Through the miracle at Cana, His disciples believed in Him, and through that very miracle today can we indeed strengthen our belief that He works in all things for the good of His glory and continues to mould each of us day by day, Amen

Let’s just pray:
Thank-you Father for this look at this simple event on that day in Galilee. Help us define its meaning for our own lives, knowing that He who, without a word, without any ostentation, transformed, silently,, quietly with dignity, the water of that day into wine. So, can He take the water of our commonplace lives and change it into wine that we may be rich and full of His power and His glory. We thank you for that, in Jesus name, Amen

Saved by grace

Preached on: Sunday 20th June2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-06-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: 2 Timothy 1:16-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

So, let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit with revelation about our God and Father.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Boys and Girls, young people, it’s been so good to see and hear a little of what you have been learning and doing in your Sunday School groups. Thank-you for sharing and contributing to our service today.

With the adults we’ve been learning about our particular word, the word grace, and we’ve seen that has many meanings in the Bible yet, every meaning tries to help us understand a gift that God wants to give us. So, during the week, I recorded some short videos of people opening a gift. Let’s see the first one.

So, what was inside gift number one? ………. football boots and football boots equip us to play football. This reminds us that one of God’s gifts of grace is the spiritual gifts He gives to anyone who follows Jesus. We might say the first gift is the power to equip us. Let’s see video number two.

So, what was inside video number two? ………. an energy bar and an energy bar helps us to keep going. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace is the power to sustain us especially when times are hard. Let’s see video number three.

So, what was inside gift number three? …… hair clippers and hair clippers help to change us, they turn my long hair into very short hair. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace as the power to change us, to change us on the inside so that we’re more like Jesus. Let’s see video number four.

So, what was inside video number four? ………. a torch and a torch helps us to see. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace is the power to see, to see that Jesus is God and so turn to Him in faith.

These four meanings of grace, these four gifts of grace are what the adults and older young people have been learning during our Sunday services over the last four weeks but there’s one more gift of grace to learn about, one more gift to open so, let’s see video number five.

So, what was inside video number five? …………. a fire extinguisher and a fire extinguisher helps us do what? what does a fire extinguisher do? Well, a fire extinguisher helps to put out fires of course, but by doing that, by putting out the fire, it helps to save something. What does a fire extinguisher help to save? A fire extinguisher helps to save maybe a building like a church or a house but more importantly it helps to save the people in the house so that they are kept safe. A fire extinguisher helps to save.

Our Bible passage today includes all these meanings of grace, all of these gifts, but especially mentions this last gift. We read “God has saved us not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”

One final meaning of grace is the power to save that is God’s last and best gift the power to save. That is what God offers to anyone through His grace.

Now today is a special day. Do you know what today is? It’s Father’s Day and, hopefully, that’ll be special day for uncles and grandads and dads all sorts of people across our world today and hopefully, maybe at home with you.

Our Beginners acted out a story for us today which was about two sons and a dad, a father in that story. Both sons needed saving; one needed saving because he rejected his dad and had went away and got himself into trouble; the other son also needed saving, he also needed the father’s help because that second son was trying to earn his father’s love and acceptance. Both sons needed saving but only one son knew he needed help. Which son knew they needed help? Was it the younger son or was it the older son? Was it the first son or the second son? Use your hands. Hands up in the air. What are you going to pick?

That’s right, it was the younger son. The first son. And so, he came home and he was going to ask his dad to take him a home but as a servant rather than as a son. But what did the father do? The father ran to his son, wrapped his arms around him, and welcomed him home, welcomed home his child.

Now, as Jesus was telling the story no one would have expected this, they would be expecting the father to get angry at the son and tell the son to go away. They’d expect the father to cast the son off but Jesus shows that God is different, that God is the God of grace, scandalous grace, who has the power to save us. The father alone had the power to welcome the son home. The older son thought he had to earn it through hard work, the younger son thought he had to earn it by shame and ridicule and then servitude, but Jesus shows us that the Father is ready to forgive us, He is ready to save us rather than cast us out, the Father has the power to save and He is ready to do that because He is more gracious than we can ever imagine. This has been the plan and purpose of God since before the beginning of time. As our bible passage reminded us God knew we would get ourselves into trouble like the younger son, He knew that we would sin and the wages of sin is physical spiritual and eternal death, but God in His grace made a plan, a scandalous self-sacrificing plan, to exert His power to exert His grace to save us so that we might have life eternal, life immortality as our bible passage said “now and always, by being reconciled to Father God”. This is the gospel, the heart of the gospel is about salvation, that God acts in grace and he offers grace to save us because He alone has the power to do that.

I pray that all of us, all ages, will know the God of grace, will receive His grace and so be reconciled to Father God. May it be so, Amen

Faith by grace

Preached on: Sunday 13th June 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-06-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 18:24-28 & Ephesians 2:1-5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit, impart to us wisdom and revelation.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name Amen.

We’re now in our penultimate week on our sermon series on Grace and previously we’ve seen that God’s grace can refer to the spiritual gifts that God gives us, or to His power to sustain us in the most difficult of times, then, last week, we saw how grace so shaped the early church that they were sacrificial in everything and how they lived, their lives and the lives they shared together, and their sharing of money and possessions. They, in this way, mirrored Jesus and His sacrificial giving.

Yet, today, when we read our passage in Acts none of these meanings applies to what we read about grace and so we find another meaning of grace. We read “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

Now, it’s noteworthy here, that we don’t read that those that Apollos went to were people who had believed in God’s grace nor are they people who believed in the God of grace rather, instead, we see that they are people who by grace had believed, and that’s an important difference because it suggests that these disciples, maybe all disciples, are helped by grace to, and that’s not something we often think about, I think, or talk about. Maybe because it points an uncomfortable truth, a truth that’s picked up in Ephesians, our reading today, in that passage we read “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, all of us also lived among them at one time gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were, by nature, deserving of wrath.”

I’m sure as you read those once again even more questions are coming to mind than they did the first time. Like “WHO is Paul talking about here? WHO’s he talking about?”

Well, he says “as for you” and then “all of us” and then “like the rest.” You, us, and the rest. So, whatever he’s talking about here apparently applies to everyone. Everyone, before they put their faith in Jesus, and it’s not just for some people long ago or one bit of society or for the people we don’t like or we think are a bit dodgy, it’s for everybody.

So, the next question you might ask then is “Well WHAT is the issue, Paul?” and he says “you were dead”. He’s saying that before these Christians had put their faith in, in fact, before any Christian had put their faith in Jesus, apparently, they’re dead.

So, I guess, we might then be saying “Well, WHAT kind of death, Paul? Because, come on, these people are living that you’re writing to, were living before we were, before we were a Christian so what kind of death are you talking about because they were living.” Well, he’s talking about a spiritual kind of death. We might talk about a walking dead or, to use a more modern phrase we know from tv, the waking dead. Of cours,e that maybe raises another question “HOW can Paul claim that? How how can he claim that you and I, anyone, is spiritually dead before we put our faith in Jesus? How can he have the nerve to claim that?”

Well, we see, he says, in the next bit hopefully “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” and by saying transgressions and sins he’s basically using a bit of a catch-all phrase meaning both the sins that we choose to do and the sins we end up doing because we choose not to do other things – commission and omission – and that leads Paul to conclude that we are spiritually dead because of what he knows in the Old Testament in the Old Testament. He knows that it said “Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear” and then Jesus said this, he said “Now this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So, Jesus is saying, to have spiritual life, to be spiritually alive, to have eternal life, is to know God but Isaiah is saying, because of our sins our relationship with God is broken. There’s distance between us and it’s that that leads Paul to conclude we are spiritually dead.

So maybe we then wonder “Well, WHERE is this deadness, saint Paul? Because if it’s real, come on, it has to be seen somewhere.” And again, Paul would take you to the Old Testament, he would take you to verses he used in Romans where he writes “There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless.”

There is no one who does good, not even one. Where is this deadness seen? It’s seen in the ways we turn from God’s, ways it is seen in our apathy towards God, it is seen in our mistakes, the choices we choose to do that we know are wrong, and the choices we choose not to do which would be good. As Paul says in Ephesians “each of us follows the ways of the world.”

So often and we gratify what’s in our hearts and in our minds, the flesh so that we follow its desires and its thoughts. Where is this sin? It is seen in the brokenness of our world and that we all contribute to that, me included, because, inherent to being human, inherent to being human, is a nature that is marred. We have an intellect, we have emotions, we have hearts, we have motives we have goals, which are not pure. None of it is truly good and sometimes we do stuff and we do it because we think it’s good, but we maybe do it for false motives.

Paul is not saying here that we don’t have potential, that we can’t do some good, and he’s not saying that God doesn’t value you, because he knows that the Old Testament teachers were made in the image of God but, nonetheless, his point here is simply that our nature, the image of God in us, is broken, it’s tainted, we have a darkness to us, our spiritual death is seen every day in our lives and in the brokenness of our world, and that’s what leads Paul to say we’re spiritually dead, that we are separated from God. As he said in Romans, and because of that spiritual deadness we don’t even seek God, we don’t even seek Him if left to ourselves, we’re so trapped by sin that we don’t actually seek reconciliation with God off our own back. That’s our predicament, that’s our predicament, and it affects every one of us.

So, what’s to be done, what’s to be done? Is God just like sitting up there having a big huff, or is it in a rage, and he’s ready just to smite us, because Paul talks about some wrath in there, probably made us a bit uncomfortable. Is He just waiting to come with His wrath, well, No, no, because in the same passage we read these words: “but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.”

Despite us being a bunch of rebels and mostly most of the time, telling God to take a hike, He still loves us, His mercy is still so great that He will not wait, he will not stand off and so, just as Jesus was raised from physical death, anyone who puts their faith in Jesus will be raised from spiritual death to new life, made a new creation, given life eternally, by faith in Jesus, by becoming reconciled to God, and He does it because He loves you, God loves you enough to die for you, and so that’s why we read in our passage in Acts today “Apollos was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

The grace of God helped them to turn to Him, His grace helped them to respond and to repent. Other parts of scripture also teach the same truth so for example we can read “One of those listening to the disciples was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Or we could see what Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And then Paul, to the church in Corinth said “For God who said let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the person of Christ.” We need God’s grace, we need His help, we need His intervention if we are to respond to the good news, if we are to come to Jesus in faith, and so, then, have His light shine in our darkness and bring that new life. Grace must come alongside us and work in us before we can respond in faith, and so, sometimes it’s called prevenient grace, the grace which comes before God gives that grace so that we can respond freely to in faith or to reject his invitation.

Christianity, friends, is not about becoming a nicer person, it’s not about becoming religious and having a religious routine, or ticking the box ‘you went to church’, Christianity is about becoming a new person, a new creation, becoming spiritually alive by His grace, enabling you to respond to His invitation so that His life might be in us and raise us from spiritual death. So, if you claim to be a Christian, then God’s grace came first, God’s great grace came first. So, there’s no boasting, there’s no right to achievement or reward, because His grace came first.

God did not stand off, He did not simply wait in wrath until it was too late, He came close, He gave grace so that you might seek Him, so that you might seek Him so that you might turn to Jesus and find new life, that His light might shine and bring that in your heart and your life and restore you, and He did all that because He loves you, He loves you.

And so then, we might wonder What’s our response today if you’re a Christian? Just humbly thank God for His grace, thank God for His grace that He so worked in your life.

One way somehow that that you responded that His grace came, because if that grace hadn’t come you wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be claiming faith in Jesus. Secondly, you might want to be praying for that grace to be working in others’ lives, but thirdly, listen to what scripture says about the importance of sharing the good news “How then can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard” Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ. As we share the good news, faith can arise, is what Paul’s saying here in Romans, but we know from what we’ve just seen, that faith can only come when there’s grace, and so it seems that in the act of sharing the good news God pours out his grace so that people can respond in faith. Now there’s an even greater motivation to be evangelistic, that as we share the good news, grace is given and people then have the choice to respond in faith or not!

Now what if some of us here today, are watching at home, would claim not to follow Jesus, what if that’s you, what if in your heart you know that Jesus is not your Lord and Savior, you’d rather be anywhere other than here in church or watching this at home, and that might include both adults and young people, and you might have attended church for years, you might have got married in church, you might have been brought up in church all your life, but you know inside the reality is, you’re spiritually dead, and you can tell that because Jesus is a bit dull to you, he does not seem glorious, you can tell it because you’re deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit, you can tell it because, in your heart, there’s no love for God, there’s no confidence that that He is your Abba Father, there’s no awareness of His personal presence day by day with you, all this and more besides points to the reality that inside you might come to church, you might even have had tons of sermons, but you’re spiritually dead, your spirits are dead until you come to faith in Jesus.

And, if that’s you, and if it bothers you, and if you want to know God and know His forgiveness and so no new life through Jesus, maybe today God is stirring up your heart, maybe God is pouring grace upon your heart so that you’re in a position to respond. Maybe today is the day to do that because we should not think there will be another opportunity, that I can just put it off to another day, we shouldn’t think that, we shouldn’t assume because Hebrews warns us “See to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

You can become so hard of heart that you might hear the gospel but you will not choose to respond and you will not choose salvation through Jesus.

Don’t leave it too late because, who knows when you flip into that point where it becomes so hard that you will not respond, that can happen, that can happen.

And so, will you respond today? Will you respond and seek reconciliation with God and be made spiritually alive by putting your faith in Jesus? Because, in a moment, I’m going to lead us in a prayer, I’m going to give us that opportunity to respond and invite you to repeat the words after me – you can speak them out quietly if you want, you can speak them quietly in your heart, it doesn’t matter, God hears but sometimes speaking them out can just articulate it but, there’s no pressure because today is, remember today that you’ve to respond, today is maybe the day you put your faith in Jesus and become spiritually alive. So, don’t put it off if you’re feeling tugging at your heart today let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, thank you that I am here today and hear you tugging at my heart. I’m sorry Lord Jesus, for the things I’ve done wrong and, in the stillness, just now I name anything for which I’m sorry ……

please forgive me Lord Jesus.

And now turn from everything I know to be wrong and submit to you as Lord. Have your way and my life.

Thank-you that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free and find new life.

Thank-you that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your spirit to indwell me. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit, to be with me forever. Thank-you Lord Jesus.

And I wonder, for the rest of us, what do you need to take home today? Have you grown a bit lukewarm in faith? Have you grown away but lukewarm to the fact that you’ve been given grace? And without that grace you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t believe? Or are there people that you need to be praying for, or even sharing the gospel with come walk me because how will they believe and turn to Jesus if you don’t share it?

Lord God, lead us in Your ways, give us a holy boldness where we need that, and may Your grace abound in this place, in this parish, across the Braes, Lord, that many would turn to You and find new life spiritual, life eternal, life which begins now by knowing You today and every day.

For in Your name we pray and for Your glory we ask it. Amen.

Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul says five times i received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one three times I was beaten with rods once i was pelted with stones three times I was shipwrecked i spent a night and a day in the open sea i have been constantly on the move I’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep i have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food i have been cold and naked besides everything else i face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th March 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition had to leave home, they had to leave the village because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times.

To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore.
Amen.

A Taste of Grace (James 4:1-10)

Preached on: Sunday 23rd February 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-02-23-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 4:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 4:1-10

Sunday 23 February 2020 Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.  May  the  words   of  my   mouth,   and        the

meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

When my wife and I lived in Edinburgh, we had at that time a group of friends who were studying medicine and so from time to time Gill or I would be asked to help these medics prepare for their examination tests. This would usually involve us pretending to be a patient who had come in and needed examining and diagnosing. Thankfully it didn’t require anything invasive or something that would give me the shivers (because I’m not good with medical stuff), but the process helped them learn a structured way to identify symptoms, discern the underlying situation, and finally consider a solution.

 In his letter to these scattered congregations, James has

again and again been like a doctor – highlighting the signs, diagnosing the situation and offering solutions. In many ways his earlier material has been building to this portion of the letter; as someone needing to share some bad news, he has been gentle and affirming, often calling them “brothers and sisters”, but at the same time, James has wisely not dodged the issues either. Along the way, the good doctor has hinted at the underlying issues, building to our passage this morning, because today the good doctor has to break the hardest of news and once more, he begins with signs that something is wrong.

James writes: ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:1-3)

Here, James highlights horizontal signs and vertical signs that there is a deeper problem. On a horizontal level, James sees the disharmony within these scattered congregations, he sees fellow Christians fighting and quarrelling with one another. James even goes as far as to say that they ‘kill’ one another. There is precedent to suggest he could literally mean murder. But equally, the adultery that James speaks of in verse 4 is metaphorical, so it is also feasible that James is not being literal. As his brother and Lord had said: ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and  anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…’ (Matthew 5:21-22)

Whether James is being literal or figurative, there are horizontal signs that something is deeply wrong within all these congregations. As one commentator wrote: ‘it is a depressing commentary on church life that James can write to a scattered people (1:1) and make the same general comment on all alike.’ Similarly, one philosopher said: ‘I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than   the  virtues  which  they   profess,   is  the  readiest criteria of their faith.’ (17th century Jewish philosopher Spinoza)

 So, let me pause here, and ask: are there fights and quarrels between us here at Brightons? It would be naïve to assume there aren’t some issues – after all, James says that they arise because of the ‘desires that battle within you’ (4:1) – and all of us have desires. These desires that James speaks of are not necessarily bad desires, the word is neutral in the Greek. But, when coupled with our messed up, self-focused, sinful nature, these desires get twisted and it leads to the kind of things James has written about: self-interest, unhealthy words, false wisdom leading to cliques and disunity.

So, do we have underlying issues here at Brightons? We may appear to be well on the surface, even healthy, but is there anything going on underneath? Are we allowing anything to fester?…

What are the things that we are allowing to create distance between ourselves? James says that the horizontal sign of disunity may point to something unhealthy underneath.

But James also, in these early verses, speaks of a vertical sign of a deeper problem. He wrote: ‘…You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:2-3)

Clearly, James is speaking about prayer, and what he is saying is that our twisted natures even impact our spiritual lives. Prayer could and should be a solution to receiving the desires of our hearts, as the Psalmist reminds us (Psalm 37:4), but even when these Christians do pray,…their prayers are going unanswered because they ask it with wrong motives, our sinful nature twists those desires into something that is all about ourselves and as such the answer from heaven is ‘no’ or ‘not yet’.

We know from the Lord’s Prayer what to pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:9-10)

Our prayers are to have a focus on God’s name, on God’s kingdom and His will, such that the motives for prayer and the things we ask for corporately in prayer, should seek the glorifying of God’s name and the extension of His kingdom upon the earth.

So, again, let’s pause and ask: where are our corporate prayers not being answered? Now, James is not giving a fully worked out reason for unanswered prayer, so please, please, if you are in a hard place at present and you are not seeing answer to prayer, do not automatically assume it is due to you asking for things out of wrong motives. James is simply highlighting that alongside very unhealthy dynamics within these congregations, they are also not seeing answered prayer as a gathering of God’s people. An example might help.

By and large, most congregations in the Church of Scotland are praying something like: “Lord, we long to see children and families back amongst our congregations.” On the surface, a very reasonable prayer; on the surface, surely a prayer God would want to answer, yes?

But are we asking this with unmixed motives? How much is that prayer being asked because we want to feel successful and healthy; or that we hope for our congregation or denomination to have a future; or simply because the place is less full than it used to be? But does God care about any of that? I know God cares for families coming to faith and finding life in all its fullness through Jesus, but I’m not sure I see anything in Scripture which supports those other prayer motives. So, maybe we don’t see answers to our corporate prayers because we’re asking them with wrong motives, we’re not necessarily asking them for the sake of God’s name and Kingdom.

James, the good doctor, has identified two signs, so now he breaks the bad news, now he brings the situation out into the light: ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?’ (James 4:4-5)

The situation that James highlights is a grievous disloyalty. Drawing upon the language of Scripture, which describes God’s people as His bride, James says their behaviour and twisted motives are adultery and friendship with the world. This temptation has always lurked at the door for the people of God and so God often sent prophets to His people, such as Jeremiah:

“‘…like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:20)

Like Jeremiah, James is warning these congregations that their flirtation with the world has consequences on their relationship with God and that God has no wish to settle for such disloyalty. As verse 5 reminds us, God loves with a jealous love, His desire is for His people to be wholly and unreservedly His.

Often, we think of jealousy as wrong, and for human beings it often is for it leads to the fights and quarrels that James mentions. But with God, who is perfect in nature, His jealousy does not stem from insecurity or selfishness. God’s jealousy is a secure jealousy, which seeks what is best for you and I by guarding our hearts from disloyalty. He is jealous for the affections of our hearts for we are the bride of Christ. He wants us to run from the things that lure us away from Jesus, and one of those things is friendship with the world.

 Now, to our ears, this sounds a bit extreme or a bit odd. But we need to remember that friendship in James’ day meant identifying with their standards and priorities. Friendship was a life-long pact between people, people with shared values and loyalties, and James is simply saying that such friendship with the world is incompatible for Christians.

He’s not alone is saying this, Paul said much the same, John too, and it was Jesus who said, ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ (Mt. 10:37)

From James to Jesus, the point is not that it is wrong to love others, because Jesus clearly taught us to love our neighbour…

 The point, however, is about who and what has the ultimate authority in our lives – is it God and His Kingdom values, or is it the values of the world? James has been trying to make the point throughout his letter that there are substantial differences between the values of the world and the values of God: instead of favouritism of self, sacrificial love is the way of God’s Kingdom; instead of religion in words only, we’re expected to partner in God’s Kingdom purposes; instead of words that lead to death, we are to speak life.

Doctor James has diagnosed that the reason for the disorder and fractiousness within these congregations, is that at heart they have aligned themselves with the values of the world, rather than the values of God. They have acted in an adulterous manner, they have been grievously disloyal.

Now, it’s unlikely these congregations were aware of the issue, it’s unlikely they consciously choose to disown God and follow the world; more likely they identified as Christians and yet they got sucked into a dubious way of life.

And that’s a bit of a scary thought: that genuine “brothers and sisters” in Christ, have the potential of to twist our desires so selfishly that we end up committing a grievous disloyalty towards God, we end up grieving God and arousing His jealousy, because we turn our backs upon God, even unconsciously.

I wonder, friends, does this make us stop and take stock? In the areas where we have disagreement, in the ways that our desires are not being met, in our unanswered prayers,…

 is there the possibility that these things are happening because we do not have the priorities of God? And as such, are we then grieving God? It’s a scary thought, it’s a thought should make us sit up and take stock: are we showing grievous disloyalty to God?

James writes this way, not only because it’s true, but to help his readers wake up, rub the sleep from their eyes and take a long hard look in the mirror. Yet he doesn’t leave them there, for in verses 6 to 10, James shares with them his solution, the doctor proscribes the medicine, which is a grace-fuelled loyalty.

He begins by quoting from Proverbs, that God shows favour, His grace, to the humble. The point James takes from the Scripture, is that those who will humble themselves,…those who can face up to the truth, God will come close and raise them up with His grace. And so, James says, ‘but he [God] give us more grace.’ (James 6:1)

One commentator wrote: “What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs, he always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, he always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first…there is always more grace. No matter what we do to him, he is never beaten.…His resources are never at an end, his patience is never exhausted, his initiative never stops, his generosity knows no limit: he gives more grace.” (Motyer, James)

 He gives more grace. To a bunch of infighting, self-centred proud Christians, God is waiting with more grace. But to receive that grace, as the Proverb says, we must humble ourselves – or as James puts it: ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.’ (James 4:7, 10)

James is calling for fresh loyalty to God, borne out humility and fuelled by grace. This loyalty to God includes: resisting the devil (v7) and coming near to God in repentance (v8-9).

We probably feel a bit unsettled or confused with the first idea, of resisting the devil – we might even wonder what it means? But James has repeatedly raised the idea that what can fuel our poor choices…is that dominion which is opposed to God. It’s just that now, James is being specific and explicit.

In calling us to resist the devil, James is calling us to resist anything that would make us act disloyally towards God. Ultimately, the question is: who is directing the path of our lives? Is it God, or is it something or someone else?

Of course, we get things wrong, and so James calls us to show loyalty to God by also coming near to God in repentance. He writes: ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.’

(James 4:8-9)

 On the surface, James sounds like a bit of a killjoy, he sounds pretty depressing! But later he will write, ‘Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’ (James 5:13) So, we need to keep in mind the context here, for James is not against joy. Instead, James is calling us to repentance, that’s what he means by coming near to God and having our hands washed and our hearts purified. Washing our hands is a metaphor for cleaning up our outer life, our acts of wrong-doing.

And the idea of purifying our hearts is another metaphor but this time with regard to our inner life, our inner values, which is why he calls them “double-minded” for they have mixed motives, mixed loyalty.

In both the outer life and the inner life, James calls us to repentance, he calls us to take our sin and disloyalty seriously, which is why we are to grieve, mourn and wail. Once we realise how grievously disloyal we have been towards God, we ought to be upset, we ought to be repulsed by our sin and disloyalty.

Now, it’s possible to be so shocked and horrified by our sin that we think we should clean up our lives first and then draw near to God. But friends, that’s not what James says to do, because that’s the way of self-reliance, salvation by works, and pride.

James says, come near to God first, then wash and purify. We are to come into God’s presence, come under His holy influence, and in that place find His grace, His more grace, so that we are then fuelled, by grace, to live in loyalty towards God.

Brothers and sisters, I’ve spoken before of being a young man of 19 when I came to faith. I’ve spoken before of how selfish I was at that time. I think I’ve spoken about how my actions hurt others though I didn’t really care, and quite clearly then, God’s values were not anywhere near the top of my priorities, even though I was going to church every week.

But then, in a moment of unasked for grace, God showed up one morning. The morning after the worst choices of my life, God came close to me. He came with holy grace. He came as the uncompromising holy God who showed me the sins of my hands and the impurity of my heart…

 

He showed me a little of the vast darkness in my heart and that quite literally, I deserved hell because that’s who I was partnering with. But God didn’t just come in His holiness, He came in His grace, and with outstretched hand He welcomed me into His family because in humility I repented. His love has astounded and captivated me every day since that moment, 18 years ago, and I have never, and will never, turn my back on Him, or forsake His call, no matter the pummelling I get or the risks asked or the ways He calls me into greater likeness to His Son. I am committed to Him, because He has cultivated grace- fuelled loyalty in me, He gave me such grace as I did not deserve even when I had been so grievously disloyal to Him.

 Friends, do you know God’s grace? When did you last taste His grace?

God stands at the door of your heart this morning, He stands there calling you to come near to Him, to admit the error of your ways and find grace, more grace.

You may be a Christian even, like the folks James wrote to, and maybe you need to come back to the more grace of God, finding and remembering the basis upon which our faith, your faith, stands, the more grace of God.

My prayer is that in the depth of our being we will know that more grace and allow it to fuel the deepest of loyalty to God and the healthiest of dynamics amongst us. May it be so. Amen.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.